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Countess of Blessington & the Sedgwick Sisters

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byron125x175.jpgMARGUERITE GARDINER, Countess of Blessington
Conversations of Lord Byron, 1834

Lord Byron is evidently in delicate health, brought on by starvation and a mind too powerful for the frame in which it is lodged. He is obstinate in resisting the advice of medical men and his friends, who all have represented to him the dangerous effects likely to ensue from his present system. He declares that he has no choice but that of sacrificing the body to the mind, as that when he eats as others do he gets ill and loses all power over his intellectual faculties; that animal food engenders the appetite of the animal fed upon; and he instances the manner in which boxers are fed as a proof, while, on the contrary, a regimen of fish and vegetables served to support existence without pampering it. I affected to think that his excellency in and fondness of swimming arose from his continually living on fish, and he appeared disposed to admit the possibility, until, being no longer able to support my gravity, I laughed aloud, which for the first minute discomposed him, though he ended by joining heartily in the laugh, and said, “Well, Miladi, after this hoax never accuse me any more of mystifying; you did take me in until you laughed.”

Nothing gratifies him so much as being told that he grows thin. This fancy of his is pushed to an almost childish extent, and he frequently asks, “Don’t you think I get thinner?” or, “Did you ever see any person so thin as I am who was not ill?” He says he is sure no one could recognize him were he to go to England at present, and seems to enjoy this thought very much.


edie125x175.jpgSUKY AND SAUCIE SEDGWICK
Edie, 1982

Suky Sedgwick: The year our grandfather died, Edie was thirteen. She had just started boarding school at the Katharine Branson School near San Francisco. Being away from the ranch turned out to be a terrible wrench for Edie. When she went to the school, she told me she had nightmares about Mummy. Crying. Just crying about Mummy a lot, I don’t know why.

Saucie Sedgwick: Suddenly Edie was taken out of school. I heard all sorts of rumors when she was brought home—that she had mononucleosis, even that my mother thought she was getting leukemia. That would have been absurd, because my mother must have known what the real trouble was. Edie had anorexia. In our family there were two styles of eating. One was to eat special foods, which my mother did because of all her allergies. Edie ate special foods at all hours of the day and night; even her white rat, named Hunca Munca, had to have special food. The other style was to eat enormously—which my father did. In a way, my father was a model for Edie, because he would eat such quantities, then he would burn it off with his exercises and swimming and riding. But Edie vomited it up. She would sit down to a very special meal which she herself would carefully choose and eat helping after helping of, course after course, excusing herself during the meal to go and be sick, to throw up what she had eaten so she could eat more. But nothing reached her stomach, or very little did.

Suky Sedgwick: I used to assist on those feasts. She used to call it “pigging.” “I’ve got to go pig now.” Eating and stuffing and stuffing and eating and then throwing up.

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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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